ABU DHABI // An international study has rated the UAE as the best place in the Arab world to live. That was the finding of a comprehensive, global survey of wealth and well-being by the Legatum Institute, an independent think-tank based in London. It collated statistics from 104 countries that make up more than 90 per cent of the world's population. The UAE topped the list of Arab nations, coming in 47th place overall. It was the only one to break into the top 50, ahead of Kuwait (52), Tunisia (68) and Saudi Arabia (81).
Countries were graded on measures including economics, health care, safety, education, freedom and social life. Finland ranked top overall, while Zimbabwe was last. The UAE fell steeply down the rankings from last year's study, when it was put in 28th place overall. However, Dr Ryan Streeter, a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, said the drop was largely down to changes in methodology. "It was a result of more accurate measurements rather than a fundamental change in conditions in the UAE," he said.
The UAE scored highly in health, safety and security, but was brought down by low scores in social capital and democratic institutions. It ranked 47th for education, earning praise for gender equality and the high number of primary teachers but losing points for low enrolment in primary and tertiary education. "There is a continued need to improve educational outcomes," said Dr Streeter. "It's an urgent policy priority."
However, he noted that "these aren't bad scores at all". The UAE's best placing was in safety and security, ranking 18th - ahead of America, Britain, Germany and France. "Domestic crime is not a significant problem," noted Legatum, citing the Gallup World Poll. "The country has the second lowest homicide rate worldwide, leading to reports that 95 per cent of the population feel safe walking alone at nights, the highest rate worldwide."
However, the report only ranked the country 98th out of the 104 nations in democratic institutions. Despite that, the institute said the UAE had "effective governance". It cited respect for the rule of law and 94 per cent approval of the judicial process. It earned praise for its tolerance, too, with 87 per cent of the population under the impression that their area was a good place for immigrants to live, and 71 per cent believing that ethnic minorities were welcome.
An extremely low volunteering rate (nine per cent) meant the UAE was ranked 77th in the world in social capital, which measures the development of relationships and the ability to form social networks and support structures. Dr Meenaz Kassam, an assistant professor of sociology at the American University of Sharjah, suggested that the country needed to encourage a sense of belonging and participation among its transient expatriates.
"Relationships are short term," she said. "As soon as you feel you know someone, they're gone." * With additional reporting by Zahra Hankir